Gloria Asmussen has been raising Scottish Highland cattle for more than three decades
Gloria Asmussen has raised Highland cattle on Red Willow Ranch for more than 30 years, starting in 1990 in Wisconsin with her late husband Lee Wolfgang.
They chose Highland cattle because Lee wanted to raise a heritage breed. The breed was listed at that time as endangered but in 2019 graduated from the Livestock Conservancy watch list. There are now enough Highland cattle scattered throughout the United States to assure continued breeding of this once rare breed.
Highland cattle originated in Scotland and are primarily raised for beef. Although not considered to be a dual-purpose breed, they do have a high butterfat content to their milk and can be successfully used as a dairy cow.
“The Queen of England states that the only beef she eats comes from Scottish Highland cattle,” Gloria said.
Gloria’s fold of cattle are grass fed, resulting in very lean meat. Red Willow Ranch is inspected and has been selling retail cuts of meat since 2000 to Jean’s Healthway, a natural food market in Ava, Mo. She estimates six steers are butchered each year for retail.
The couple originally moved from Wisconsin to Douglas County, Mo., and founded the Heartland Highland Cattle Association, then later moved to the Tunas area in Dallas County where Gloria still resides.
Since Lee’s passing in 2012, Gloria has been running the farm alone. She has about 25 cattle, including one bull. Since she no longer keeps any of the offspring, she is planning to keep the current herd sire for natural cover breeding.
The cattle free-range on about 30 acres and helped to clear her overgrown property of brush when they moved here 16 years ago. Highlands require no grain and are excellent foragers eating cedar saplings, buckbrush, ragweed and multiflora rose.
Gloria’s pasture is made up of non-endophyte fescue, orchardgrass, lespedeza and white clover. In the winter, she feeds baled hay off-farm, both rolled out and in a bale ring. Ponds and a creek running through the property help supply water to the herd. The Highland breed are hardy and require no additional care, taking cover from wind and rain in wooded areas. Gloria provides mineral and protein tubs free choice. She likes the altosid mineral tubs to reduce fly populations in spring and summer.
Highland cattle are considered to have small- to medium-sized frames. Gloria said she has never had a calf born bigger than 55 pounds. They are considered fully matured at 5 to 6 years old. She waits until 2 years of age to breed. They can live to 25 and can produce calves at old as 23 years of age.
Calves are born in spring or fall. Gloria uses a squeeze gate to start the calves on grain to make weaning a little easier. At 6 months they are corralled separately. She has a veterinarian come out to vaccinate using a 7-way vaccine that provides protection against blackleg, IBR (Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis) and brucellosis. She keeps some quality bull calves for sale as seedstock, but the rest are castrated by the veterinarian at this time and raised for beef.
She and the Heartland Highland Cattle Association officers and board of directors started their own breed registry in 2019. It is an open foundation, accepting any Scottish Highland cow that fits the breed standard and can subsequently be considered foundation stock. There have been more than 300 head cattle added to the registry since it began.
Breed characteristics require that they be horned, have a long thick coat of hair, a full forelock and follow the Scottish beef breed characteristics. Colors accepted are black, red, brindle, dun, silver, white and yellow.
Highlands are popular with 4-H and FFA because of their smaller size, docile personality and ease of handling.
“I’ve never had a cow try to use horns against me, but I have walked into them a couple times,” Gloria said.
The Heartland Highland Cattle Association holds several events throughout the year. There are twice-yearly auctions in Lebanon, Mo., and in Parsons, Kan. The 10th annual Highland auction in Lebanon and will be held April 24 at the Mid-Missouri Stockyard. This auction has been the largest Highland auction in the United States for years.
Other events are an annual convention in Branson, Mo., several Highland field days in different states, Ozark Fall Farm Fest and Spring Roundup in Springfield, Mo., at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, many county fairs, the Celtic Festival in Buffalo, Mo., and the Heritage Festival in Warsaw, Mo.
Since Lee’s passing, Gloria has taken on all the farming duties they once shared. She keeps busy with the Heartland Highland Cattle Association, the breed registry and the various events she attends to educate the public and help promote the breed. After 30 years, she is just as enthused about Highlands as she was in the beginning.